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Crypto-Anarchism (wikipedia.org)
74 points by mgh2 8 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments

A few years ago I read a book called Maximum City. The premise is "let's look at the lives of several people [including a powerful police officer, a dancer, low-level criminals, high-level criminals, very poor people just getting by and, remarkably, a young Hrithik Roshan] in circa-2000 Mumbai". I also happened at the same time to be within hearing distance of a few discussions that touched on crypto-anarchism.

The thought I remember having is that crypto-anarchism seemed to require being embedded in a well-functioning state, but that this assumption was kind of just waved away. I had this thought because so many of the people in Maximum City are just at the mercy of the slightly more powerful people around them -- paying protection money, not getting paid for work, paying bribes -- and there's not a well-functioning government that can help them. It seemed like said people would love a lot less anonymity ("hey! look! this guy is threatening to beat me up if I don't pay him every month! that's illegal!"), and would be well-served by tech infrastructure that makes them more visible.

> The thought I remember having is that crypto-anarchism seemed to require being embedded in a well-functioning state, but that this assumption was kind of just waved away.

Not sure about anyone else, but speaking from my own philosophising, you're subtly wrong/missing the point: it requires not having any of your critical physical substrate/infrastructure embedded in poorly-functioning state. The distinction is that, in a lot of (over-)simplified models, there is no physical substrate, so what kind of state it's embedded in is a vacuous question. Compare, eg, any (over-)simplified model of computation that doesn't consider physical problems like cosmic ray bitflips or hard drives dying in fires/wearing out (ie, most of them).

More visible to whom? To the well-functioning state? I don't follow. The whole premise of anarchism is that a truly free society is one without a state. The presumed benefit of the kind of visibility you're talking about also rests on the assumption that the state is aligned with the interests of the wider population, whereas anarchism proposes that the state is fundamentally misaligned with collective and personal freedom.

Maybe your point is that because crypto-anarchism appears to rest on this state-friendly assumption, it isn't "real" anarchism. I don't know too much about crypto-anarchism and haven't formed an opinion either way, but if it's as cozy with anarcho-capitalism as the quotes at the end make it out to be, I'd probably agree with you.

(edited for formatting)

Detour: This thread has a lot of downvoted comments, but not a lot of replies. Further, a lot of the downvoted comments, like the above, are well argued. I, for one, would love to see more involved engagement.

Anyway. Anarchism is actually a broader concept than believing that state is fundamentally misaligned with the collective. That's a branch of anarchism if anything. A better definition of anarchism is the belief that every institution or authority has to be able to justify its presence and should be dismantled if it can't (quoting Noam Chomsky). Following that defintion, I'd say that crypto-anarchism is anarachism where redistribution of power is done via technological means, with an emphasis on technological solutions to privacy and trust.

You make a critical point, actually in light of the OP topic. The building of crypto-anarchist tools might lead to the insight that certain forms of state have little coercive power (because the tools restrict or redirect the actions the state can take), and so anarchists are okay with the state.

The only anarchistic definition of The State I've ever heard is some kind of body with a legal monopoly on violence. If you're going off that definition, you'd have a hard time justifying it to anyone, as it's pretty much fundamentally counter to self-determination. It's true that the state (and capitalism in general) are fundamentally technological, so successful anti-state victories (say, making it harder for the state to manufacture consent and bypassing the propaganda filter) would be significant. But that's only "certain forms," as you put it. At the end of the day, the state will at some point resort to its go-to tactic of violence. If crypto tools restrict or redirect state action, that doesn't mean the state is suddenly okay, it just means anarchists are winning.

You're right. I wasn't really trying to give a broad definition - I was making a narrower argument - and I agree that Chomsky's is a better definition. I guess my "whole premise" phrasing was a bit overly broad.

It's funny to look back on the cypherpunks list as kind of a fun cyber punk LARP and then a mere quarter century later, we really are living in a world where people live double lives as fugitives from privacy invading corporations, mass intelligence apparatus surveillance, political gangs infiltrating institutions, and navigate a domestic civil information war abetted by shadowy international forces, where even the tools we use to maintain some semblance of a private autonomy are suspected traps and honeypots, and there is an arms race on to defend civilization against drones and robots.

It's like we won't believe we live at the edge of a dystopia it until there are flying cars.

Growing up as the typical nerd, I used to think that trust was something that needed to be eliminated, that other people weren't worthy of trust and that we all ought to be using TOR, bitcoin, I2P. All our chats be over XMPP with OTR messaging. But growing up, and getting beyond the world of early adulthood I've come to realise that most people can be trusted most of the time. Who doesn't instinctively look away when someone is typing in a password, most bosses aren't trying to scam you out of your pay check. In fact most people instinctively help others - even giving them a little push along.

As amazing, magical and occasionally necessary things like TOR, bitcoin and I2P are what truly is wonderful is that basic trust, that small but significant ∆, much more than clever algorithms and data structures is what makes our lives work.

What you're missing is that software enables entities you shouldn't trust to work at scale in a way that does make it an issue.

Staying very high level, we're primed to think of privacy in human-defined terms in a way. Your mom snooping over your shoulder on what you're typing/viewing at age 12 on your first PC is the cause.

As a result, with tech privacy, we do a notional looking up and looking around, like you are, to evaluate it... ok, I know 20 people have my finsta, I only give out my number to like less than 2 people a year, I don't have a google account so no need to clear my cookies or use a VPN, and so on...

What you're not accounting for that:

- the very small amount of stuff you do let leak out because "most people can be trusted most of the time" gets ingested by that "most" delta. There is one or few very untrustworthy entities, you're right, but they still touch your online presence. This is the difference maker because of the scale these entities can work at (BlueKai is an example).

- Shadow contacts, and so on, are a thing. You get sucked in either way by other's bad behavior

I agree with your observation, most people are nice.

What I realised growing up is that every day someone is forced to give a percentage or their profits or face jail time, someone gets killed because we socialise the cost of war, people get spied on by state actors and surveillance systems.

All of this despite most people being nice.

The centralisation of power is a weakness and it's being exploited by those who are not nice.

This is completely missing the point of why one should be anonymous and use I2P etc. Surveillance harms journalism and activism, making the government too powerful and not accountable. If only activists and journalists will try to have the privacy, it will be much easier to target them. Everyone should have privacy to protect them. It’s sort of like freedom of speech is necessary not just for journalists, but for everyone, even if you have nothing to say.

> I used to think that trust was something that needed to be eliminated ... I've come to realise that most people can be trusted most of the time

You are confusing the NEED to trust with the ABILITY to trust - and the are almost opposite things in some regards.

You need to trust car drivers to stop at a traffic light not to run over you. This is disempowering: your life is in their hands. If we can remove the need to trust drivers (e.g. with automatic braking) it's good.

If you CAN trust your neighbor to water your plants when you are away this is empowering. You can freely choose what to do.

As a side note, traditional anarchists are all about mutual aid and solidarity, while "anarcho-capitalists" support selfishness (links below)

(By the way, it's written Tor, not TOR)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_aid_(organization_theor... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solidarity https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selfishness

> In fact most people instinctively help others - even giving them a little push along.

You may like the book Mutual Aid by Kropotkin.

I would say in our capitalistic system you should have an inherent distrust of your communications channels. Google is reading your Gmail, Facebook is tracking the amount of time you spend looking at any image on its services, many third parties are trying to reverse your identity as you browse. All to sell or otherwise monetize your data.

There are many bad actors out there government and commercial.

That is hardly unique to a "capitalistic system", as history has repeatedly shown.

We live in a capitalistic system today, these are some of its properties. I said nothing about trust in other systems.

Thanks for clarifying.

On a related note, it's amazing to me that Bitcoin's Satoshi is still an anonymous figure. Many initial Bitcoin contributors are closely aligned with Crypto-Anarchism and some think that Satoshi is one of them. Either way, I think not diving into the spotlight says something good about a person.

Satoshi seems to be the main reason that Bitcoin is Bitcoin. There's an almost religious type of "immaculate conception" quality to it.

I think odds are strong Finney was a big possibility in the SN guessing game.

A single entity or group of entities keeping the faith this long and not busting open the SN wallet w/ all those btc's is an insane commitment to values. I'm not sure someone could really pull that off. And, short of something like a multisig key for that wallet was held between a few core folks, of which Finney held a key (DNS root servers works like this at ICANN I believe), I'm not sure a group of people could hold strong for this long, given the price rises.

> I'm not sure a group of people could hold strong for this long, given the price rises.

Isn't it possible that whatever person or group of people comprise Satoshi just decided to throw away the key, making willpower irrelevant?

I don't think you could do multi-sig transactions on Bitcoin until 2011:


Ahh good point.

> I think not diving into the spotlight says something good about a person.

It seems likely (or at least plausible) that Satoshi is a bitcoin billionaire.

Imagine having a thumb drive or computer in your possession with more value than all of the gold at Fort Knox.

I'd want to be anonymous too.

Speculation is that they’ve passed away, and that satoshi’s coins will forever remain unmoved. If you were anonymous in their position, could you resist the urge yo move some of those coins?

If those assumptions break, BTC might become even more interesting (read: chaotic) than it already is. Imagine injecting 1M coins into the market.

But, with institutional players getting into BTC now, I guess such concerns no longer make sense.

A mining pool selling 3,663 BTC last week caused the the price to drop 23%, Satoshi has 300 times that amount.

Satoshi could have lost the wallet.

I would imagine the US intel agencies and probably those of other countries have figured out the person or people behind it; either via passive monitoring or targeted attacks against systems they were known to have used, such as GMX email.

Why would they be interested?

Large amounts of censorship-resistant payment ability can be used to challenge sovereign prerogatives (aka "national security") up to an including financing a war.

Knowing who or where someone is sitting with 40 billion dollars in cash that can be teleported instantly and irreversibly to anyone, anywhere on the planet is something that I would be surprised if they were not interested in. Every other system of moving large amounts of money long distances is under some form of sovereign control, either via bank/wire regulation, or customs searches in the case of physical gold or currency.

My first talk on Bitcoin and digital currencies in 2011 was titled "Financing The Revolution"[1] for precisely this reason. Cryptocurrencies, due to their censorship resistance and inherently transnational nature, ultimately pose a threat to sovereign nations if they remain open access and fungible.

The CIA asked one of the bitcoin core developers to come to Langley and present to them on the matter in 2011. It's been on their radar for a while.

[1]: https://fahrplan.events.ccc.de/camp/2011/Fahrplan/events/459... https://vimeo.com/27653912

I definitely agree that institutions have an interest in surveilling or tampering with the network. It's just that the backstory of its invention isn't something I see as being practical information.

I'm inclined to nitpick your argument about cryptocurrencies being a threat to sovereign nations. Isn't everything that isn't censorable and is resilient to attack a threat to everything else? Your argument could be used to advocate authoritarianism.

> It's just that the backstory of its invention isn't something I see as being practical information.

It wouldn't be, except that circumstantial evidence suggests that the creator(s) of bitcoin were involved in early mining and possibly (perhaps even likely) have access to approximately $40B USD worth of the currency, having the mining rewards from some ~22,000 early blocks at 50 bitcoin each.

There's also other circumstantial evidence that suggests that the keys may be lost, the person/people who have/had the keys may be dead, that the person/people who mined those blocks would likely never spend them, et c. But the risk is there, and it's nonzero. Getting more information on the matter, and perhaps an identity, from the published information available (satoshin@gmx.com) is a straightforward and low-cost task for nation-states.

Almost all of the other people who have anywhere near that much bitcoin had to give their name and address and bank account to someone, somewhere, or they were one of the few dozen of us computer nerds who were mining way back then, and likely not terrorists/violent revolutionaries.

Why wouldn’t they? Creating a multi-billion dollar global commodity out of thin air is quite a feat. I would want to know what the authors of Bitcoin are up to after they moved on.

I think this might be a "great man"-style fallacy. It's not so much that that/those specific person/people are important, but that anyone who potentially controls that much transnational cash is immediately a person of interest to those that are concerned with the Master List Of All Humans Who Can Potentially Hire An Army And/Or Buy Thousands Of Jets/Tanks Immediately.

(People with $40B USD in a bank account aren't usually in that list.)

If you're in that exclusive club, it pays to know an exhaustive list of everyone else who is in that club.

But how would you make the pitch? Q: How does your research project proposal relate to national security? A: Bitcoin is a feat and I'm really interested in who started it.

Each node can only decrypt its own part of the message, and only obtain the information intended for itself. That is, from which node it got the message, and to which node it should deliver the message. With only access to this information, it is thought to be very difficult for nodes in the network to know what information they are carrying or who is communicating with whom.

Caveat: this won’t work against global passive adversaries (those who can see a significant portion of traffic going in and out), nor against governments willing to intercept and implant the hardware with backdoors.

I find it interesting that in the early days of crypto, people were hopeful that such fates might be avoided. But here we are, mostly subservient to a few large corporations —- and also to each other, since we carefully watch what we say.

In other words, the goal is to widely broadcast as many thoughts as possible, for most people. That seems to be in direct opposition with what the early creators of crypto imagined would happen, which is a neat outcome (for better or worse).

I've always found the name “crypto-anarchism” a bit unfortunate, given that it has a remarkably close structure to the “crypto-fascism” word, which is more than 60 years older, but with a totally different use of the prefix “crypto”.

“crypto-fascism” uses the greek prefix, also used in the word “cryptography”, while “crypto-anarchism” just use “crypto” as a shorthand for “cryptography” (and unsurprisingly, this use has also been adopted by “crypto-currencies”, which themseves originat in the crypto-anarchist movement).


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"The Dark Net" by Jamie Bartlett was a book with a perhaps overly dramatic and actually a bit misleading title/graphics, that nonetheless does a very, very good job of explaining the so-what of crypto-anarchism. Also, as it was published in 2014, so it was a bit prophetic.

To crib a Goodreads review of it, it's actually about:

> Bartlett spends the bulk of the book analyzing the impact and development of the internet on human life:

To get to the point, what is really interesting about the crypto-anarchist movement is a concept Bartlett does a good job explaining. The cipherpunks, for all their libertarian wackadoodle beliefs, believed that if you could enable 3 pillars of internet use, the impact of how the internet could be used would be radically improved. Or like, those 3 pillars would enable something really "meaningful" about internet use..

Those three pillars are natively digital... 1) private browsing 2) private communications 3) private spending

If you look at how the past 20-30 years turned out, 1 and 2 came into existence and proved to have immensely impact: Tor and PGP. Tor perhaps didn't shake things too much although has its niche, but consumer-accessible encryption today plays fundamental roles in internet infra basic functionality the same way that web servers and DNS does.

So, the cipherpunks sort of called it accurately on 1 and 2. Along comes 3 in Oct 21, '08 with bitcoin's white paper. At a minimum, that means btc merits attention in my mind, as it comes out of a community that has some other very prescient commentary on how the internet could, should, and would eventually work.

encryption, digital money, anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero knowledge, reputations, information markets, black markets, collapse of governments.

So what color should we make the Picardía?

Without punishment and regulatory framework, all forms of anarchism whether its confined to human morals and beyond, are doomed for failure.

Without rules, without a centralized arbitrator of consequences for breaking rules including the arbitrator, the bad part of human nature will prevail and destroy stability in the long run.

ex) Communism, anarcho-cults, narco-anarchy

You can privatise protection and arbitration, removing a central arbitrator

Eg. http://daviddfriedman.com/The_Machinery_of_Freedom_.pdf

Speculation is enabling to non-coercive frameworks. If I say a token has a use value that I will use to supply goods and services, you may want to acquire that token. If I can also control issuance and supply of that token, then, short of direct threats of violence or enslavement, you must negotiate with me or with a marketplace.

Most of the ill in the world has something to do with gatekeeping replacing speculative activity.

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